Before entering the cinema to watch Suffragette, I must admit that I had very little knowledge on the movie and even less on the suffrage movement itself. What an enlightening couple of hours were lying ahead for me.
For those of you that don’t know, “suffrage” is the legal right to vote, which embattled women had to fight for bitterly in the early 1900’s. This is their story. A story that starts off in England, 1910, as we find ourselves inside a laundry factory where we meet Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), a twenty-something wife and mother of one young son, who has been working at the laundry since the tender age of 7. She’s essentially an every-woman of the times.
Director Sarah Gavron uses this backdrop to set the serious tone of the movie straight away, shining a light early on the fact that the woman at the laundry work longer hours than their male counterparts but for less pay. Maud however is numb to this and goes ahead day-to-day, compliant to this reality. It’s just the way things work, right?
But the bubble that Maud has been living in doesn’t last long as she inadvertently finds herself swept up in the middle of a demonstration of women appealing for suffrage after shop window is shattered in front of her. And during this movement Maud spots one of her friends from work, Violet (Anne-Marie Duff), surprisingly involved with these suffragetes.
But Maud, however curious about this radical movement, is still insistent on continuing with her role of hard worker and diligent wife. It isn’t long however when Maud finds herself in front of Parliament stuck in the situation where she is forced to give testimony after Violet’s violent husband beats her to a pulp. But what begins as a testimony to help her friend soon transforms into a plea to secure the right for woman to vote – and essentially to secure their own future and well-being.
Things really start to pick up here for the ladies in the movement, of which Maud has now found herself a core part of, along with her comrades, Violet and the local pharmacist, Edith – played superbly by Helena Bonham-Carter.
The ladies continue fighting for the liberation of their rights, but with each of their attempts getting bolder and more violent. These activities attract the interests of Inspector Steed (Brendan Gleeson), a tough Irish cop that takes it upon himself to break up these protests. The ladies have plenty of run ins with the law and these cops don’t show any restrain.
The great Meryl Streep – who just last year famously spoke out about female inequality in Hollywood – is in the movie too, but unfortunately not for very long. She does feature in one pivotal scene though as suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, where she appears on a balcony to deliver an inspirational speech to hundreds of her allies. After her speech she has a brief run in with the girls where she has just enough time to get them to “Never surrender! Never give up the fight!”.
These words stick with Maud and inspires her even more to continue fighting for the cause. As do the suffragettes, of course and the movie builds to a big dramatic climax. What you get from Suffragette is a good, thought-provoking drama about the genesis of the feminist movement, delivered with brilliant performances. Anne-Marie Duff is great as the tough and determined Violet and as I mentioned earlier Helena Bonham-Carter is brilliant as Edith, but the standout showing comes from Mulligan as she delivers an utterly sincere performance and transforms fantastically from docile housewife to fiery fighter of woman’s rights.
Gavron’s directing is good as well and you can see a bit of her documentary making experience coming through as she creates scenes that have a more realistic feel. That’s great when you dealing with a biopic of this nature, trying to deliver a message as strong as this one.
Suffragette is really a solid, insightful and well-executed drama, managing to do exactly what it set out to, because as I left the cinema I couldn’t help but rethink everything that I had just seen. It will make you really ponder about how far we have come as a “modern” and “free” society” and more importantly, how far we actually are from where we should be.
Last Updated: January 15, 2016